Experimenting with different forms of writing

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
By: 
Karen Andrews

A photograph of Karen Andrews
Karen Andrews. Credit: Sarah White

Writing is often loosely divided into fiction and non-fiction, but the reality is far more complicated. Karen Andrews discusses some of the key challenges ahead of her Write-ability: Finding the Form workshop.

Is the line between fiction and non-fiction as clear-cut as it seems?

Oh, that is an excellent question that goes to the heart of many a writer’s fears and uncertainties. On a pragmatic level, yes, once you get to market those distinctions will be important to the publisher in terms of marketing and categorisations, not to mention how well they can trust the writer and the story it is they’re telling if it’s (supposedly) non-fiction. I think the James Frey controversy over ‘A Million Little Pieces’ remains a cautionary tale. The question is worth considering in the early, developmental stages which are – or can be – tricky anyway. In doing so I think a writer shows diligence and respect.

What are some of the factors that make it difficult for people to decide where the story they want to tell fits?

If the story is non-fiction and relies heavily on the writer’s personal history then recalling events and conversations that involve other people can be fraught with additional, wider questions: How do I know if my memories are sound? What happens if the people mentioned object? Is the story worth the potential fallout?

I’ve postponed one particular project until a certain period of time has passed due to vehement – but understandable – objections. I didn’t have to, but ultimately decided to honour that request. So in terms of ‘fitting’ it doesn’t yet in my life, but it will eventually.

You’ve written across forms including poetry, fiction, short stories and non-fiction and you’re also a blogger. Do you have a favourite format?

Gosh, I know its cliché to compare questions like that to asking whether I have a favourite child, but it’s true! I can’t pick definitively – they’ve all been integral for different reasons. I will make two admissions: blogging was instrumental in helping develop my voice and ‘influence’ in the writing space, so I will always be grateful for that. And short stories are great whetstones for cultivating style.

It’s becoming increasingly common for writers to be published across different forms. How important is it to be familiar with all publication options?

Not necessarily all publication options – that would be very hard to do! But certainly keep tabs on the relevant publications, grants, fellowships etc. that would help bring a current project to fruition.

Can rewriting a non-fiction piece as fiction, or using a fictional work as a jumping off point for a non-fiction piece, improve creativity?

Absolutely. I’ve done it many times. It’s liberating and cathartic. The young adult novel I’m finishing off right now is a fictionalised story of something that happened to me when I was seventeen. I won’t say what – you’re going to have to wait until you read it!

About Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews is an award-winning writer, author, editor, poet and publisher. Her work has appeared in journals and publications throughout Australia. She has blogged at www.karenandrews.com.au since 2006 and is one of the most established and popular parenting/personal bloggers in the country. She is a two-time finalist in the Best Australian Blog Awards. She is the host of ‘The Creative Life’ podcast, interviewing Australian writers about their creative process. She is on Twitter: @KarenAndrewsAU.

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